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Fourth in series of seminars on ‘We Speak Too, By Sanitation Workers’ held in city

“I was studying in Class 5, and I saw my father struggling with family expenses. I decided to support my father and family and thus became a waste-picker,” said Asha Paul, a waste-picker, during the event ‘We speak too by Sanitation Workers’ in Bhopal recently.

Asha spoke about the ongoing threats faced by waste-pickers. According to her, privatization of waste management is the biggest threat to the livelihood of waste-pickers. ‘We Speak Too, by Sanitation Workers’ is a series of curated, multi-city seminars that motivate and encourage a broad spectrum of sanitation workers to speak up and voice their concerns.

The fourth edition of the series was held in Bhopal, with seven sanitation workers—Asha Paul, Baji Bai, Dilip Ingale, Harilal Balmiki, Jyoti Ingale, Kamlesh Balmiki and Sunil Dawade—as panelists. They spoke on the theme ‘The City and Us: Transitions’. Researcher and social worker Javed Anis moderated the session.

Panelist Santosh Kanare, a septic cleaner, reflected on the relationship of caste and sanitation work and said, “People do not pay us in hand, they will place the cash somewhere and ask us to pick the cash. It is like they do not want to touch us.”

Anis posed questions about the nature of sanitation work, threats and challenges faced by sanitation workers to the panelist. The panelist answered the questions with the stories of their lives. Jyoti Ingale (a door to door waste collector) demanded permanent employment and provision of weekly off for sanitation workers having contractual work arrangements. Jyoti shared that sanitation workers do not get even a single day off. They are expected to work for all the seven days of the week and thirty days of the month.

Hari Lal Valmiki, a septic tank cleaner, talked about occupational safety. He mentioned that 4 people died because of the fumes while cleaning a septic tank. Since then, he is scared to do the septic tank cleaning. Dilip Ingale spoke about the low income and how arbitrary deductions are made by the contractor who employs them. All the narratives of panelists, sanitation workers whether in contractual or informal employment, emphasized that municipal authorities do very little for the sanitation workers, a note by the organisers said.

The seminar was organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS)-led Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) and the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers (AIW) with an aim to create a platform for sanitation workers to tell their stories and amplify their voices. Janvikas Society’s unit in Bhopal, SAMMAN – Bhopal and the Bhopal School of Social Sciences were the local event partners. More than a hundred students, representatives of various social welfare organizations and citizens participated in the seminar.